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Handy Hints on Teaching through Practical Demonstrations

July 09, 2024 4:53 PM | Natalie Henshaw (Administrator)

Dr Gerard Lynch, Historic Brickwork Consultant, Master Brick Mason

21 May 2010

There are many highly skilled, knowledgeable and skilled craftsmen and women who have years of proven experience working on a variety of buildings who have a great deal to share with fellow practitioners, young people wondering about their future career pathway, architects, architectural historians, surveyors, planners, etc, keen to acquire a greater awareness of a craft its’ tools, materials and techniques, as well as members of a fascinated public who are simply delighted to find that such skills there are still being practised.

Most working within the arena of the repair and restoration of traditionally constructed buildings, are keen to meet up with fellow craftsmen and women from their own and allied crafts within PTN, and express a willingness to assist, in some small way, passing on aspects of their skills, knowledge and experience to others who are keen to learn. Few, however, will have the natural confidence to volunteer to take the plunge to stand up in front of a group and take a class, or lead part of a ‘workshop’. That is perfectly understandable, as most are naturally humble about their own abilities and achievements, and fully aware that, throughout time, not all gifted craftsmen could teach. The writer would suggest, however, a great number who do feel a ‘calling’ to begin, in some small, to teach by way of taking a lead part in practical demonstrations, but are shy of committing themselves, are, with targeted guidance and support, from those within PTN of proven successful experience, usually very capable of doing so.

Encouraging PTN Members to Consider Demonstrating

There will be an understandable shyness for a craftsman or women when, having felt a desire to share skills, knowledge, experience and their enthusiasm, considering putting their name forward to be a demonstrator. Yet, they should bear in mind that all of those fellow PTN members who they see putting on well-planned, informative and engaging demonstrations, were themselves once novices within this arena; and equally as hesitant and nervous too. So, these people must be collectively encouraged and supported, especially by those of us members with proven experience in demonstrating, to assist them to get past their natural reserve and enable them to gain the confidence necessary to give demonstrations. 

There can be little doubt that when one has a love of their craft they can quickly learn to overcome inhibitions, convey knowledge and skills, enthuse with their personal passion about it and optimism about its long-term future, then people listening and observing will always find that of interest. 

A key ingredient in gaining such confidence is to possess a sound and meaningful knowledge of one’s craft and, within that, of the subject that they wish to demonstrate. That being so, their natural skills and wealth of knowledge will simply and easily flow as they begin to relax into their demonstration. Yet, that said, they must also learn not to be embarrassed, or put off demonstrating, should they making a mistake, for as they saying goes, ‘To err is to be human, to be perfect is to be Divine’. Remember, all who are now so fluent, and clearly at ease in their demonstrations, achieved such mastery by learning in the willingness to have a go and in so doing, of how to quickly and gracefully overcome the mistakes they made within their early presentations. In that respect, it is good to laugh at oneself and turn a ‘blooper’ into a source of group laughter. It is has been the writer’s experience that when one approaches a demonstration with a degree of humility, that group is always forgiving of a mistake in demonstrating; for they fully appreciate how difficult it must be to present in front of an audience.

As PTN stalwart, Ken Follett reflects:

“I think of the times we have had really grand demonstrators who started out thinking they had nothing to say but once set with their tools and materials and an audience that they fell into the rhythm and gave really touching demonstrations. An intention of the demonstrations was to aid tradespeople in finding their voice, and in this respect a focus was sometimes applied to assist those who believe that they have no voice to be enabled to speak through the giving of demonstrations to an audience of peers who would not take them to task for being clumsy or inept in their presentations.”

The following notes, therefore, are hints on how to successfully teach through practical demonstrations.

Planning the Demonstration

  1. Reflect on the umbrella organisation for who you are to demonstrate for, the nature of the event and/or venue and the time when you are to demonstrate. Remembering, there is a marked difference to be allowed for between: 

    • Professionals and the general public.
    • People in the morning and later in the day.
  2. Define your topic and consider carefully what part/s of it you wish to convey. Remember little is more – do not try to pack-in too much subject matter.
  3. Try to work out a time by each defined phase, and its associated explanation, and add this up to see how it fits-in with the overall time allocated to the demonstration.
  4. Reflect on your target audience to determine the appropriate level at which you will pitch the content of the topic, are they: 
    • A specific and highly focused group who have a degree of knowledge and/or skills of the chosen topic but wish to advance.
    • A group from one’s craft but who work on new-build and wish to learn about traditional tools, materials and skills. 
    • A select group from various professional disciplines within the industry. 
    • A wholly mixed group at a public event, open to all.
  5. Be well prepared, read-up on your chosen topic to assist you in considering the important aspects that should be key parts of the demonstration and to utilise in preparing one’s own class notes or neatly copied (and credited!) as handouts.
  6. Make a list of all the tools and assemble them, ensuring all are in serviceable condition and none could cause injury. Likewise make a list of materials that will be required and separate those you can provide from those you will request to be provided.
  7. Reflect on the Health and Safety issues that surround your demonstration and make appropriate provision at the workstation. If necessary, prepare handouts for the participators.
  8. Plan the demonstration very carefully by breaking it down into a series of logical practical steps leading to the completed task.
  9. Assess and then organise your workstation to make it both ergonomically effective and give those watching and perhaps assisting maximum benefit.
  10. Organise the layout of your tools and equipment so they are both ready at-hand for immediate use - and relocated when finished - and as a visual display (consider labels?) for the group to study.
  11. Try to look clean and tidy – it inspires confidence in you.

Undertaking the Demonstration
  1. When you are ready to start, politely call the group to order. 
  2. Try to face your group, if possible, when addressing them, and pitch your voice to ensure – and check - all can hear you. 
  3. Remember to talk to them: not at them! One should seek to inspire by the manner of the approach and by being engaging.
  4. Do not keep looking at one person in the group – no matter how pretty or handsome! Cast your eyes around to both engage all and to gauge their attention and interest.
  5. If you begin to feel you are losing them – perhaps they are struggling with an aspect of your subject, change tack and come at the subject from another angle and enquire if they now grasp it.
  6. Introduce yourself and give a, ‘brief’ – 2 or 3 minutes maximum - overview of yourself.
  7. Introduce the topic - with possibly a little piece of stimulating history background and related technology to set the subject in context – a maximum of 5 to 10 minutes 
  8. Relate briefly how you intend to demonstrate the topic and what you are expecting them to note or possibly participate in.
  9. Give them handouts and a brief reminder of the potential Health and Safety hazards, and what to do in the event of an unfortunate problem.
  10. Explain the first part of your demonstration and begin.
  11. Sometimes it is not possible to face your group, perhaps you are plastering or pointing a wall and therefore they are seeing your back, it is then that an engaging explanation, perhaps a funny, subject-related incident, or invite a question and answer dialogue with the group; all of which is intended to retain their interest becomes vital to the overall success of the class.
  12. As one finishes a task and gets ready for the next part of the sequence of demonstrations, face your group and briefly, but appropriately, explain the next task you are about to demonstrate and re-commence.
  13. If you call in someone for assistance check that they are suitably dressed, level of skill, issue with goggles/gloves/mask and when they have completed their assistance, acknowledge by thanking them and leading group applause.
  14. Remember, for the commencement of each phase of the overall demonstration, face your group and explain what you are about to do, why, and what one shouldn’t do, and emphasise what aspects they are particularly to watch-out for.
  15. If it aids the effectiveness of the group’s involvement and learning outcomes from the demonstration, invite them to come over to inspect something close-up. 
  16. Upon successfully completing the final part of your demonstration draw it to its conclusion by: 

  • Re-capping on the topic and those stages you established.
  • Inviting questions – if you don’t know the answer say so, but say you will endeavour to find the answer and get back to them, - then ensure you do. Never ‘bluff’ a group can see it a mile-off: and it reduces your hard-won credibility,
  • Thank them for participating and wish them well
  • Finally say you will be around to talk to whilst you are tidying-up.


Please bear in mind that all of the advice and points listed above are intended merely to be helpful hints, borne out of years of undertaking demonstrations by the writer: they are certainly not cast-iron rules. 

Everyone is a unique individual with his or her own character.  A style of demonstrating that suits one person – even if one greatly admires their particular approach and technique - may not necessarily suit them. So one must seek to try to find their own method/s of presenting in order to discover which one sits comfortably with their personality and natural demeanour, yet one that still brings about the learning outcomes desired from that demonstration. 

Finally, someone who is new to demonstrating must never feel that they have failed, nor that they are not worthy to give a demonstration; especially if in their earliest forays into this arena they are not able to be so well organised. If they can engage and hold a group to get across to them the skill/s and knowledge that were intended as learning objectives at the outset of the presentation; then they have succeeded.

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